“I urge you to watch out for people who create divisions and problems against the teaching that you learned. Keep away from them. People like that aren’t serving the Lord. They are serving their own feelings. They deceive the hearts of innocent people with smooth talk and flattery.” – Romans 16:17-18
Malcolm Gladwell, the journalist and author, has a theory. He believes that the people who truly create social change in this world are always a little “disagreeable.” Far from people who seek peace and unity at every cost, disagreeable people are willing not to be liked by everyone. They are also willing to break a rule from time to time in order to do what is right.
We don’t like conflict in churches. I certainly understand why. As a pastor I used to hold my breath during church meetings when there were differences in opinions. I didn’t want there to be a fight. In recent years, though, I’ve begun to understand that differences of opinion are not just okay, but even vital. If a group starts thinking with one mind, and no one is ever willing to object, that’s a sign that there is a huge problem.
Are there people who like to “create divisions and problems”? Absolutely. We’ve all known church bullies who love to start drama. But should everyone who has a different opinion be put in that category? No. In fact, if we start to do that, the church will never progress any further in the advancement of God’s vision than it has so far.
Paul warns the church in Rome to be on the lookout for anyone who contradicts the truths that they know. He tells them to be aware of the ones who serve themselves, and not God. It is the deception of God’s people that he is worried about; not the threat of a disagreeable person who is still trying to stay in community and find God’s will.
The next time a contradictory opinion comes up in your church, test the spirits. Is it really a “division and problem”? Or, is it possible that it’s another way of understanding what God is doing now in your church? God speaks from the margins more than we know, and maybe that disagreeable voice is a sign that the still speaking God has got something new to say.
God, help me to hear what you are telling the church today, no matter whose voice you are using, and help me to test the spirits of all I hear. Amen.